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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expensive Greek mythology fanfic, 14 Jun 2007
This review is from: The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (Myths) (Paperback)
The jacket blurb for this book is somewhat misleading. Whilst Penelope's intention is to set the record straight as to what really went on with the suitors whilst Odysseus is away, in fact Atwood cannot resist throwing some doubt in at the end as to whether Penelope is really telling the whole story or just trying to spin it. The notion of Penelope being as adapt a liar as Odysseus is fascinating, but is never explored in depth and in truth, whilst Atwood gives Penelope wit and intelligence, there is something about the way she speaks that is curiously anachronistic. Whilst you can explain some of this from the set up (she is in the Underworld, monitoring the world as time goes by), the fact that she is so familiar with using modern phraseology and slang does grate. I also found Penelope to be a strangely passive character and ironically, nowhere near as strong as I always saw her in The Odyssey because Atwood is careful to describe her isolation and lack of allies (apart from the twelve maids who we never really see her interact with). I found this to be frustrating because far from being someone who helps to shape her destiny (particularly by unpicking the shroud at night), she comes across as someone who's really just waiting to be rescued.

Atwood uses the maids as a chorus in the book to give their side of the story and also cast doubt on what Penelope is saying. She does this by writing in verse and whilst it's well written and amusing, it doesn't give them such a dramatic voice and whereas the effect should be to make you emphasise with their fate, I found it too superficial to do so. Similarly, neither Odysseus nor Telechemus rise above cariacture - Odysseus is the classic wandering husband (obviously) full of promises that he never keeps and which Penelope never confronts him on whilst Telechemus is nothing more than a sulky teenager who doesn't like his mum. Atwood points at there being an emotional distance between mother and son without ever explaining it from the Penelope's perspective and this again goes to her passivity - she allows others to spoil him without ever really doing anything to rectify it.

There is no disagreeing with the fact that Atwood writes this with wit. There are a couple of chuckle-out-loud moments in the story but ultimately the froth that you find here is insubstantial and it's certainly not enough to make me want to re-read this. This is part of Canongate's series re-examining mythology and whilst they've got some heavy weight hitters, if they're all as insubstantial as this volume (which frankly, is something that Atwood could bat out in her sleep) then I can't see it as being particularly successful. In particular, I find it very difficult to see how they can justify the cover price of 7.99 when there's fewer than 200 pages here (and at least 20 of those are verse).
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